Never wanting to spend a vacation in just one fabulous city meant that my next project was to find the best way to get from Madrid to Barcelona. It's just a six hour drive, but high-tailling it up the highways seems like a waste when there's so much to see in between. Inspired by this road-trip from Mediterranean blog Covetotop, we turned that six-hour drive into a three-day adventure full of castles, tiny towns, and lots more sangria.
Our first stop after leaving Madrid is a little town just two hours away with history dating back almost a thousand years. Molina de Aragon was a Moorish independent state before being conquered by Christians in 1129. Plenty of Moorish influences can still be found in the town's architectural details, including it's main tourist attraction: The Castle of Molina de Aragon.
In the picture above, taken from outside the town's biggest church, you can see the castle on the hill in the background. In the foreground is another tourist attraction: the "Roman Bridge" which also dates back to medieval times when the river was much bigger. After checking into our country inn (more on that in a minute), we spent the afternoon wandering the streets and checking out the local colours.
That last photo may not be the prettiest one I've ever taken but you can clearly see the Moorish influence on the windows. This building happened to be in the former Arab neighbourhood which, together with the former Jewish neighbourhood next-door, make up just two little streets on the edge of the town. When it's time to escape the heat, a wing of the convent of San Francisco holds a teeny-tiny natural history museum with some pretty big fossils.
Molina de Aragon isn't the culinary capital of Spain, but a quiet terrace overlooking a plaza is always the perfect way to end the evening before returning back to the cutest little country inn I've ever stayed in.
Parador de Santa Rita is on the very edge of Molina de Aragon, and right on the highway so it's easy to find. Plus, a huge bonus in small towns like these is the parking right out front. Santa Rita is owned and operated by the loveliest elderly couple with a family history of chocolate-making. The husband doesn't speak English, but his wife is originally from Puerto Rico and can recommend the best way to see the sights and where to get the best local cuisine. I have to say though that, for me, the best food in Molina came right out of her own kitchen. Breakfast is included with your stay and features local charcuterie, cheeses, and homemade apple cake. They will even cook up a made-to-order omelette if you're feeling so inclined. For a friendly, cozy, place to spend the night, I can't recommend it enough!
We made sure to get a good night's sleep because on our way out of town we climbed up to the castle to see what all the fuss is about. (Don't worry, it's not nearly as far up as it looks. It's only about a 15 minute walk.)
If you want to book a visit to the castle, make sure to pre-arrange a time through the Molina tourist office. You'll need a guide to unlock the gates for you, and you'll get a little tour through the grounds. Castle visits are just 3 euros per person.
For more information on Parador Santa Rita visit: http://www.paradordesantarita.com (Spanish only) or look them up on www.booking.com for English info